In the 1961 movie Paris Blues, Sydney Poitier portrays Eddie Cook, a jazz musician who flees American racism to live in France. Even when Cook falls in love with the beautiful Connie Lampson (played by Diahann Carroll), he resists returning to America to be with her. To Cook, as to many real life black artists and intellectuals of that generation, Europe offered a refuge from racism and the freedom to be oneself.
This phenomenon from several decades ago no doubt contributed to the popular perception that Europeans are inherently more racially tolerant or enlightened than most Americans. After all, the Civil Rights Movement illuminated the ugly underbelly of American racism for all the world to see. Bull Conner, the fire hoses and the dogs were all captured on television and burned into the memory of whites and blacks alike.
But things change. The Civil Rights Movement successfully repealed unjust laws with very little violence. And while things are far from perfect in America today, countless black Americans have risen to the heights of success in every way it can possibly be measured. Europe, on the other hand, has arguably moved in the other direction. The ever-shrinking globe has brought an influx of immigrants from all over the world, and from North Africa and the Middle East in particular. And while Europeans have a reputation for being more welcoming to immigrants than Americans, violent clashes between those immigrants and European “natives” have been escalating for many years now.
Particularly shocking to many were the riots that rocked Stockholm, Sweden in May of this year. For several days, groups of young people—originally from the Middle East and Africa—set fire to buildings and cars, and threw rocks at police and firefighters responding to the crisis. Most estimate the damage to be in the billions of dollars.
As stunned as many were to read about such destructive violence in a place with a reputation for being peaceful and prosperous, the events were not as out of the ordinary as one might think. Sweden experienced smaller scale riots in 2008 and 2010. In 2005, mob violence erupted in Paris and continued for weeks, spreading to hundreds of towns and prompting the government to declare a state of emergency. The rioters, nearly 3000 of whom were arrested, were of Arab and North African descent.
Similar events occurred in 2011 in London and the surrounding areas. These riots killed at least six and caused over $300 million in damage. Countless smaller scale incidents have occurred all over Europe in recent years. In each case, the alleged “trigger”—often the accidental death of a member of the immigrant population—is quickly forgotten as the destruction spins out of control.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.